Day 3 - Wednesday, June 7, 1967
At dawn we were to attack Bir Hassna At this late date I do not have many memories from that morning. We had little to do as I remember. The tanks again did the fighting. We exchanged fire at some point at long distance with my machine gun but I am not aware of anyone hit on either side. We then moved on towards Bir Thamada, an Egyptian Air force base and a stronghold. At this point it was again open country and the recon were far ahead of the main force. We had a few small skirmishes with Egyptian soldiers and took quite a few prisoners.
At one point I remember a large group of soldiers surrendering and we went to collect their arms. One officer that I took in showed me pictures of his family wife and children that he had in his wallet. That was all he had there. The officer that I turned him in to, wanted to take the wallet from him. But I convinced the officer that all he had was his family pictures and that he should be allowed to keep it. I knew that for a while that is all he would have of his loved ones.
Later in the afternoon we came upon the Egyptian Air base in Bir Thamada. We, the jeeps, spread out, all of us in formation and charged the base with machine guns blazing. There was no return fire that I remember. and we entered the base and slowly spread out more and more. The place was quite large and pretty soon we were each jeep for himself alone. We, my team, did not see many Egyptian soldiers at the time, but as we moved through two rows of one story buildings the built-up area abruptly came to an end and we found ourselves in an open field and there right in front of us was an Egyptian tank about 100 yards away. Surprising as it may seem, we, the recon unit, did not have any anti tank weapons. I quickly took in the situation. Turning around and dashing back behind the buildings would seem the best move, but the time it took us to turn could expose us to tank fire. The tank was facing away from us with its cannon, and the top was open. If I could get there before they see us I could drop a hand grenade into the tank and take it out that way. I slapped my driver on the back, "Charge the tank," I said, he looked at me like I was crazy. I said, "Move quickly and get me to a place where I can climb onto the tank." He flew towards the tank and I was on it in no time. I looked into the tank with grenade in hand… it was abandoned! Whew, I did not need to drop the grenade in after all.
We joined the rest of our men, some of whom had captured many Egyptian soldiers, and we had them load our trucks with the many barrels of fuel that we found on the base to be used by our forces. After handing over the prisoners to the proper authorities and moving out of the compound, we regrouped and received news that the old city of Jerusalem was taken by our forces. I had been listening on the BBC broadcasting the news, and I was surprised to hear that Egyptian armor was at the outskirts of Tel Aviv. I wondered if that was wishful thinking on the part of the BBC… Here we were well on our way to the Suez Canal fighting the Egyptian army back to the canal and they are telling us stories that never happened… I never thought of the BBC as a worthy source of news again. At some point during the long drive through the desert, I was listening in on the enemy communications and I heard people speaking Russian… I thought these are the guys that started it all with their lies about troop buildups in the north that were not there when reported. I thought to myself I would like to meet up with the Russian soldiers here and teach them a lesson about fighting the Israeli army. But alas, they ran faster then the Egyptians and we did not catch them in the Sinai.
It was getting dark and we were well ahead of our tanks. So we started getting ready for the night in the desert, when we saw lights coming towards us. We quickly organized an ambush alongside the road. Most of the jeeps lined up at the roadside and I was at the right end. When the vehicle came into view, we saw that it was an Egyptian armored vehicle with soldiers in it. Our men ordered it to stop and surrender. They opened fire and a big firefight at close range ensued. I closed their path of retreat by coming onto the road behind them with my jeep. and in back of me was one of our halftracks. I too opened fire with my mounted machinegun. Then I started to hear more machinegun bullets whizzing around my head too close for comfort, I turned around to see that the half track right behind me too had opened fire and I was in his line of fire. I turned and told him to hold his fire or he would hit me and my team. Some of our soldiers started lobbing grenades into the armored car. That is when the Egyptian soldiers started jumping out towards the far side of their car and I was the only one that could see and get them. As they started jumping out, I wanted not to shoot. I was a very good sharpshooter and thought that I would shoot near them and let them escape. However, I realized that they had their guns with them and they had not surrendered, so that the minute they disappeared into the night they could turnaround and attack us and probably would. That is the dilemma that soldiers face in combat: It is really kill or be killed much of the time. War is the worst of human endeavors. With all the glory that we sometimes heap upon our soldiers there is nothing worse. All this went through my mind as the Egyptian soldiers were jumping from their armored car. Before the first one hit the ground I knew that I had no choice, and opened fire. I got them all. I did not count but there were probably 6 or 7 of them. My team’s reaction was really terrible, they were actually cheering, while I do not remember feeling worse ever. When it was over we decided to change location because if there were other forces in the area they would know our location. As we were getting on the road one jeep after the other, my turn came and as my driver got onto the road suddenly behind me, the strong headlights of another armored car turned on. I ordered my driver to turn around the face the vehicle., as my machine gun was mounted in the front and I could not shoot to the back. As he started to turn, the armored car opened fire. I slapped him on the back and ordered him, ”Fly out of here.” He hit the gas and we literally flew down the road with tracers flying all around us. I remember thinking “Well, you win some and you lose some”
I was waiting for the bullets to hit me, but they did not, I was thinking that if I were shooting I would have hit the target moving or not. I then realized that the bullets were flying only in the area lit up by the headlights. I grabbed the steering wheel and turned the jeep left into the open field and out of the light, and at that moment we were out of the line of fire I had the driver turn around so that I could fire back at the armored car. I then saw that others of our force had engaged them, and by firing I could hit our own men. I held my fire. And we radioed the jeeps that were ahead of us to get together and get back with our main force. It turned out that some of them had gotten stuck in a trench that ran alongside the road, and we had to get them out first. We were traveling so fast that our jeep leaped over the trench. Then we met up with our main force and also hooked up with our tank force as well. We found a location and as in the American old west we created a large perimeter with all our guns facing outwards, tanks and jeeps intermixed.
As it turned out we were now at the main crossroads leading to the two passes going through the hills on the way to the Suez Canal. All traffic must go through either the Mitla or the Jidi pass. We, the soldiers, were not aware of the fact that became all too clear during that night, that we had passed the whole Egyptian Army and were at the crossroads that they needed to get through to get to the Suez. That was the longest night in my memory. All of what was left of the Egyptian army came down on us that night and it was the biggest firefight that I can remember that went on all night. At one point, Malachi the commander of the recon unit, asked for some volunteers for a difficult mission. I volunteered together with a few others but I think that it was because I was new to the unit that he chose others. One of them was the only man that I knew from my Kibbutz. I felt slighted but said nothing. I did not know how lucky I was. They were to bring a doctor from one place to another. I am not sure where to. Only one of these men came back alive. They ran into an Israeli tank ambush, and when the tanks opened fire they charged the tanks as we were trained to do with their open unarmored jeep. The tank fire killed them all except Oded who jumped out and took cover. (We now call this friendly fire.) This was the first loss of our comrades in arms that I was aware of during the fighting. There were more but I only found that out later.
We were surrounded by vehicles burning and firing at us and we were firing at them. At one moment I had to move my jeep to another location. As I was getting ready to move I saw a body under my jeep. I asked him to move so that I would not run him over. But he did not answer he was stiff with fear not dead or wounded. I finally got out of my jeep and physically moved him out of the way. During the evening part of my unit was ordered to go to the Mitla pass with a tank unit to block the retreating Egyptians. They were in effect doing the same thing that we were doing at the crossroads at Bir Thamada.
Michael Shacham is a well known American-Israel sculptor. A brief biography and summary of Michael Shacham's philosophy of art are given at the conclusion of this series.
His Six Day War Diary is presented in parts:
This material is copyright by Michael Shacham, 2007, and protected by intellectual property law. All rights reserved. Any commercial use requires written permission of the author.
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